The newest release from Ohio's Guided By Voices (GBV), English Little League, is yet another fine addition to the vast catalog of this incredible band; GBV turns out more music in one year than many artists turn out in a lifetime. Produced in their signature lo-fi cum hi-fi mish mash style, this new album boasts many charmers across all frequency ranges.
Like all good GBV records, this one rocks like mad while hook-filled melodies and production touches draw you into their web. Usually the songs by band leader Robert Pollard take most of the limelight, but this time there is even a single penned by co-founder Tobin Sprout, "Islands (She Talks In Rainbows)." Other Sprout songs like "Quiet Game" stand out this time around as well.
There are no doubt a handful of tracks probably made in Pollard's kitchen that some may view as unnecessary in the grand scheme of things but I feel that they DO provide a bit of breathing space, enabling your mind to focus on the other tracks which sound like they were recorded between the grooves of The Who's Sell Out album from 1967.
The vinyl comes with a free download and the MP3s generally sound quite good, if a bit bright (as MP3s tend to be). They are fine for listening in your car or your during your commute. The LP sounds a lot warmer, boasting quite a bit of sweet guitar and amp tone from track to track.
The vinyl is dark black, dead quiet and probably 140-gram weight. The notion of quiet vinyl may seem a like a bit of a joke at times because of the nature of these recordings, some which sound like they were recorded on a boom box sitting on a piano in the rehearsal room. They probably were. Regardless, it sounds really cool if you dig lo-fi.
One thing that IS a bit different on this album is the bit of somber flavored tunes, some employing notably minor key song structures reminiscent of Living in the Material World-era George Harrison recordings. "The Sudden Death of Epstein," from Sprout jumps out as do Pollard-penned epics like "Biographer Seahorse" and "Noble Insect." Perhaps I'm just reading into it -- but Pollard seems a little bit introspective on several of the tracks, but maybe I'm just over reacting relative to the relative joy of the last three albums the band has turned out since they reformed. Some of these tracks sound like they might have said well on Pollard's really great solo album Moses on a Snail - which was itself a more introspective but no less rocking affair.
I'll get all big time record reviewer on you, dear reader, and consider that perhaps there is some underlying reflectivity in the album title itself; GBV might be considered by some in the English Little League of rock music. Thus, they reserve the "Big League" crown title for the original '60s British invasion while the Punk and New Wave Movements of the 70s and 80s vie for the honorary tiara. ;-)
As English sounding as GBV may sound, they -- like The Flamin' Groovies before them -- will always be a great American rock 'n roll band.
So there you have it: another GBV album in hand and waiting for your lucky ears. If you dig vinyl, I advise you to get these these records soon because they sell out quickly. They are usually limited-edition pressings, especially the singles. GBV fans are rabid and they disappear. The singles also come with free MP3 downloads and bonus tracks so you can compile them onto your iPod or other portable devices for almost another album side worth of music to enjoy!
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com